When I was 7, I saw Carolyn Murphy on the cover of Vogue and thought that she was the most beautiful creature that I had ever laid my eyes upon. When I was 15, I kissed a girl, even though I knew I liked guys, because I felt comfortable with her. Growing up in a Korean family where sexuality was rarely discussed, let alone different subsets of sexuality, I didn’t really know what to make of my sexual identity. So like any other ’90s kid, I looked to pop culture.
But if I learned anything from mainstream media, it is that we live in a society that cultivates individuality so long as the identity is within the boundaries of established cultural norms. To distinguish oneself outside the social matrix, people feel that they have to take on a larger-than-life persona.
I could never see myself ever having a haircut like Ellen DeGeneres, and I didn’t think any of my effeminate male friends could be gay because they were nowhere near as animated as Jack McFarland from “Will & Grace.” RuPaul was probably the most influential reason for my childhood obsession with the New York club scene, but I was more interested in the sashay of his songs and the glitz of his makeup than the fact that he was a drag performer. And now we have Lady Gaga, with her endless assortment of outrageous ensembles and sequined masks, as pop culture’s leading activist of the LGBT community.
Although these cultural characterizations have made a tremendous and positive impact on many people in defining their sexual orientations, our highly commercialized and fabulously presented culture also leaves a large chunk of us still feeling a disconnect. So what happens to everyone in between?
I find bisexuality to be a happy limbo of nonidentity. Bisexuals are aware of the beautiful relationships and interactions that can result from the entire spectrum of the human species, regardless of gender.
The stigma that surrounds bisexuality — which I will forever blame drunk college parties for — is the misconception that people attracted to both genders are either sexually confused or constantly aroused. I see bisexuals not so much as confused but as people who are discontented with the strict gender norms offered by mainstream society. They understand attraction as something that is not strictly sexual but also romantic and emotional, and they are drawn to characteristics unique to a given individual. Instead of being enamored by the idea of a person, there is a recognition of the notion that people and their qualities are constantly in a state of flux.
One problematic aspect, however, is that self-identify as a bisexual is in itself a paradox. At the core of bisexuality is the notion of gender fluidity and being open to fluctuations in desires and unique modes of attraction based on each relationship and interaction.
To be bisexual is a refusal to adhere to and perform the set of behaviors and mannerisms that convey the qualities deemed socially appropriate as either male or female. And in this sense, to be bisexual is to not identify with anything — it is to embrace the enigmatic complexities of humankind while simultaneously negating all artifices and conventions of gender identity.
Recently, I’ve been feeling like we are living in a quicksand. Everything is essentially unstable and constantly shifting — especially our individual identity. We do things like haphazardly choose a career when we’re in our early 20s, marry people we’re not in love with and have kids just to create substance out of our essentially insignificant lives.
Because the world is so harsh, I understand why people take the road of least resistance, preferring to categorize anything that will threaten that sense of stability. But since we are pitifully inadequate when compared to the colossal eternity of time, why do we try so hard to hold on to an identity? The absence of identity is frightening, but isn’t it also tremendously liberating?
I sometimes wish that my family was more open about sexuality. But in many ways I am thankful for not being imposed upon with predetermined judgments of sexual identifications, because this allowed me to navigate through my desires based on my own instincts. I have realized that I don’t need to see myself reflected on the television or validated through the response of others to feel content with my sexual orientation.
Through my relationships with both women and men, I have developed my own sense of sexuality. I’ve learned that desires and attractions change — just as interests and perspectives in life change — and that the fluidity of the human spirit is the one thing that is certain in this abyss called life.